Chevrolet Spark Review: The Incredible Shrinking Chevy
When the Chevrolet brand was re-launched in Singapore in 2003, it received much flak for not having a single model produced in America, but instead having a range of cars built in Korea, Thailand and Australia. Three years on, Chevrolet is among the top 10 best-selling car brands in Singapore, and no one questions the Asian origins of these cars. Instead of waving the stars and stripes, the real reason the brand has been so successful is that its Aveo and Optra models, by being of designed and built in Asia, are highly relevant to the local conditions, and provide serious competition to the mainstream Japanese and Korea carmakers.
With the launch of the new Spark, the American company has shown that it is also quick and agile enough to react to the demands of a changing market place. With the escalating price of fuel, the launch of the sub-1.0-litre Spark couldn’t have been better timed. It arrives within months of two Japanese carmakers launching micro-sized 660cc ‘kei’ car models, and the arrival of the Chinese budget carmaker Chery, with its 800cc QQ. Once again Chevrolet has a model that is highly relevant and timely, and one that is also competitively priced.
The Spark fits under the Aveo5 in the Chevrolet line-up, and comes either with 4-cylinder 1.0-litre engine with a 5-speed manual transmission (reviewed here), or with a 3-cylinder 800cc coupled to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Size-wise, it is marginally longer and wider than Mitsubishi i, Subaru R2 and Perodua Kelisa, and shares the same overall length as the Kia Picanto, which is probably its closest rival. The Picanto is slightly wider, but also lower than the Spark.
As with the other Chevrolet models, the Spark is attractively styled. The front is steeply raked and has stylish oval lamp units set in triangular headlamps. The tail lamps are also bold, and in being circular, act as focal points for the pert rear end. The Spark owes its chic styling and cute proportions to Italian design maestro Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had penned the Daewoo d’Arts (Matiz) upon which Spark is based. The d’Arts itself looked like a production version of the Lucciola concept car, Giugiaro’s proposal for the Fiat Cinquecento. So, don’t be surprised if catch yourself being charmed by the looks of this baby Chevy, its genes were originally Italian!
A sense of style also predominates in the Spark’s interior. The dashboard, for example, is symmetrical, with the instrument binnacle and all the switches located in the middle. This central module is made to stand out with black and silver finish, while the rest of the fascia is grey. Behind the wheel, this combination of symmetry and modularity gives the Spark a modern, progressive feel, and it is quite conceivable that the same dashboard moulding is used for both left- or right-hand drive models, with only certain panels swopped to accommodate things like the steering column and the warning light binnacle.
Cabin space for the driver and front passenger is quite good, with generous amounts of headroom. Legroom in the rear is a bit more cosy, and given the car’s narrowness, the three people that sit at the back should be good friends that don’t mind their shoulders touching each other. Even so, the combination of low backrests and plenty of glass give the cabin a light, airy feel.
To drive, the Spark feels energetic for its engine size, certainly eager and willing. Extensive re-engineering by General Motors has resulted in the Spark being stronger yet 13kg lighter than the Daewoo d’Arts. As a percentage of the bodyshell, high-strength steel (HSS) now accounts for 51 percent of the total body weight, up from 37 percent previously. The engine itself is smooth, but tends to get noisy when revved beyond 3500rpm. The gearchange on the 1.0-litre is smooth, but the shifting action itself could be slicker and the tighter. On the move, the Spark doesn’t feel as small as it is, coping well at highway speeds. The standard powered steering is nicely light in town, but as the assistance doesn’t diminish with speed, it remains uncomfortably overly assisted.
It is in town and during parking that the Spark’s petite dimensions are really appreciated. Few cars can slip into a parking space as easily, and its only after looking at the car in relation to the other cars in the lot that one realizes just how small the Spark is.
As a little runabout around town for a single person or couple, the Spark is an ideal car. It has the looks and style that elevate it from being a crude econobox, yet it is impressively economical as well. In fact, if official figures are to be believed, it is almost as fuel efficient as petrol-electric hybrids such the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, which cost almost twice as much as the Spark. As the rising cost of fuel becomes a real concern, the Spark is definitely the right car at the right time.
Credits: Justin Lee